January 20, 2004

Ofcom? Ofgem? JeCr!

IT IS FITTING that the above was inspired by one of Anthony Burgess' drier-than-dry quips, as it sums up a serious problem in modern British society. Namely, we speak of the UK's horrid yet trendy practice of giving Government agencies awful names. Not merely bad names, you understand, but names one would expect to hear escape the lips of Comrades Smith and O'Brien.

As an American, we find this disturbing.

We're sorry, but Government agencies ought not be named things like Ofcom. It's not just that it rings too much like Minipax or Miniluv, although that's a serious flaw. It's that a name should spell out what exactly the agency does.

Now, that's not to say we don't appreciate regional differences among the English speaking peoples. However, the United States and Canada do a much better job in this regard.

Here in America, our "alphabet soup" system is easy to master. Everyone still uses the long form in official correspondence, but in everyday conversation, the short form suffices handily. In cases where the alphabet soup system doesn't apply, the long form actually describes what the agency does. It's a simple and pleasant concept, and works very well.

Canada, meanwhile, often takes a simple descriptive (i.e. Health, Citizenship and Immigration, Western Economic Diversification, etc.) and sticks the word "Canada" after it. This denotes that one is dealing with the Canadian federal Government, and especially not with the bloody Americans. But like our standard, everyone gets it.

One cannot say this for the present British scheme.

Consider that the learned Mr Mark Steyn, writing recently in The Telegraph, said that he had never heard of Ofcom. As Mr Steyn is a noted commentator on British politics, we offer this as prima facie evidence that the naming scheme is an utter failure. Indeed, it was only with much work that we ourselves found that Ofcom is the recently-created, kinda-sorta successor agency to something called Oftel. And we don't even want to discuss Ofgem. Mr Steyn seems similarly unimpressed, as he makes a foreboding reference to the potential formation of something called OfOf.

We are confident the British will never let it come to that. However, we would suggest that they rename Ofcom the "Office of Communications," instead of having the latter in four-point type below the former's giant logo. They could also call it the Communications Regulatory Authority, or another easily-understandable name. Otherwise, they might find queries for these people end up with these people, and that would prove a total mess.


NOTICE: We would like to apologize to our readers for posting an entry on the naming systems of foreign Government agencies. This type of minutiae must prove exceedingly boring. However, Mr Kepple has final authority on content, and he insisted.


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Posted by Benjamin Kepple at January 20, 2004 09:45 PM | TrackBack